There was a degree of novelty beyond the head-coaching debut of Chris Volk for the UC Irvine men's soccer team Sunday night.
The No. 16-ranked Anteaters' 3-0 season-opening nonconference victory over visiting Pacific, in fact, had both a familiar ring and a new twist for UCI junior forward Lalo Calzada.
Calzada cashed in a brilliant series of passes that led to the first goal, which happened to be the game-winner, in the 37th minute. It was a noteworthy contribution for Calzada, a Cal State Bakersfield transfer playing his first game as an 'Eater.
The No. 16-ranked hosts, who had gone 13 days since topping then-No. 7-ranked Cal, 3-1, in a home exhibition match, managed just one 3-0 triumph last season. The victim of that drubbing: Cal State Bakersfield. for which Calzada was the most productive scorer.
Calzada's tally helped position himself, this time, on the right side of just the Anteaters' second three-goal victory margin in their last 53 matches, dating back to late in the 2011 campaign.
The opening scoring sequence began with junior midfielder Mats Bjurman, who gained possession on the UCI side of midfield, then darted past the center line before rolling a deft through ball onto the foot of sprinting senior forward Cameron Iwasa. Iwasa, sped near the top of the 18-yard box, flanked by Calzada, with just one Tigers defender who tried in vein to check them both.
But Iwasa timed his delivery to his right well enough to avert the defender and set Calzada up with plenty of space to work with against solitary Pacific goalie Josh Adachi. Calzada didn't miss, lining a drive into the left side of the net for all the 'Eaters would need.
Iwasa and Bjurman were awarded assists on the play and Iwasa's passing skill helped set up UCI's second goal as well.
This time, an Iwasa pass into the 18-yard box fed senior forward Trey Hayes, who was tripped from behind by a defender, prompting the referee to award a penalty kick in the 55th minute.
Senior forward Gor Kirakosyan guided the PK just off the fingertips of a diving Adachi and inside the right post.
Hayes then set up the capping goal in the 77th minute.
Hayes gained possession behind the defense at the top of the six-yard box, before encountering a charging Adachi just outside the right goal post. Rather than take a shot, Hayes directed the ball to his left, around Itachi and onto the foot of sophomore Renato Torquato, who pushed it in from the doorstep.
The win gave Volk, who spent the last 17 seasons as an assistant under George Kuntz, who left after the 2013 season that ended in the NCAA Sweet 16 to become head coach at Cal State Fullerton, a decisive opening statement as a head coach.
It also allowed the 'Eaters to vent some pent-up competitive fire for the first time in nearly two weeks.
"They were anxious to get out of the training mode and have an opposition to play," said Volk, who was pleased, but not effusive about the play of his team.
"I told the guys [before the match] that the key to our success was going to be good individual and group defending," said Volk, who saw his team compile a 15-4 advantage in shots, including 9-1 in the opening half. "I thought they did a decent job [defending], at times, but it can get better.
"We also have to do a better job of keeping possession. I think there were too many turnovers, especially in the midfield."
Despite having something to work on before UCI returns to action at home against Denver on Friday, Volk said there was plenty of progress since the exhibition game.
"I think we were a little bit more disciplined, defensively, and more organized [Sunday]," Volk said. "The fact that we were able to not concede a goal [junior goalkeeper Michael Breslin made two saves], was good. So, we'll take that win, put it under our belt and start focusing on Denver."
Pacific, which revived its program this season after a 28-year hiatus, fell to 0-2.